European Baptists push for release of peace pastor imprisoned in Azerbaijan

By staff writers
October 15, 2007

European Baptists are renewing their efforts to press for the release of an imprisoned peace pastor, Zaur Balaev, after an Azerbaijan court last week rejected his appeal against a two-year prison sentence for illegal religious activity and violence.

Police were sent by the authorities to arrest Mr Balaev in May 2007. They say he was holding was an unlawful religious service and resisted arrest with violence.

The country's law requires the registration of religious groups, something which has been refused on a number of occasions by the government, in spite of repeated requests and strong references.

At the appeal hearing the court was told that the Baptist denomination "teaches all our members not to resist with violence." One witness declared: "I testified that Zaur would not commit violence."

"It was not Mr Zaur but the authorities who used violence", the judges were told.

Mr Balaev's father, who was present when the raid took place, also testified before the court hearing, reports the Baptist Times newspaper in the UK.

European Baptist Federation (EBF) general secretary the Rev Tony Peck has written to Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijan first lady and a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, protesting against the decision, and has urged Baptist Unions across Europe to do the same.

The letter states that the EBF council believes Mr Balaev "has been falsely accused, tried and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, but really because he is a Christian Baptist pastor."

Baptist World Alliance president the Rev David Coffey, formerly head of the Baptist Union in Britain, said he was "deeply saddened" at the verdict. He urged prayer for the Baptist leadership in Azerbaijan.

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